Electronic Health Records Not Being Used to Fullest Potential in Coordinating Patient Care, Study Suggests

electronichealthrecordsMore than 70% of physicians in the U.S. use electronic health records, which are touted as having positive impacts on both administrative efficiency and patient care alike. But a new study published in the journal Medical Care suggests that up to half of doctors using EHRs don’t always receive the information they need to effectively coordinate patient care.

Doctors who do use health information technology systems receive more data regarding care administered by other parties than doctors who don’t have electronic systems, according to lead author Chun-Ju Hsiao and colleagues, but the relatively narrow margins involved demonstrate that not all electronic systems are being fully utilized.

In their analysis, the researchers looked at data from approximately 4,500 office-based physicians who had answered questions regarding the specific types of data they had received and how it related to coordinating care. Of the physicians included, 33% had an EHR system and shared patient health data electronically, and 39% used EHRs but did not share health information electronically.

Those doctors who used health information systems were only slightly more likely to receive data on patient visits to other practitioners. In the case of patients referred from other doctors, for example, 40% of doctors not using electronic systems routinely received patient information. That figure was only 48% for physicians using electronic sharing.

And even among the doctors who did routinely receive outside information, Hsiao’s team found that such records were often faxed or sent through non-electronic channels.

Physicians in certain specialties can face even more challenges in using EHRs, as Health IT Outcomes reported earlier this month. A survey of pediatricians reached conclusions that dovetail with Hsiao’s, showing that while overall adoption of EHRs among child care practitioners was close to 80%, only 14% of the pediatricians who participated considered their EHR “fully functional.”

“The recent study above should not be a surprise to anyone. Phase 1 of Meaningful Use did not focus on the use of portals or the transfer of patient data electronically,” says Ernie Chastain, Vice President, Benchmark Systems Inc. “Some healthcare providers did move forward in those areas as the survey documents. Survey data collected a year from now will be more representative of the usage in this area. The adoption rate of EHRs continues to be a healthcare evolution process and the gains at this stage, in my opinion, should be viewed as very positive.”